Pogonotrophy is growing a beard. Pogonotomy is cutting a beard (or shaving it off altogether). Pogonology is writing about beards. And so pogonosophy is knowledge about beards – or perhaps wisdom signified (or conferred?) by a beard.

It is odd, to my ears, that the root pogon applies to beards. It comes to us from Greek πώγων, pógón, ‘beard’, the further etymology of which is uncertain, though it bears remarking that πώγων looks a bit like the chins of five bearded men side by side. But while whisker has a ruffly sound suitable to big beards, pogon just sounds blunt and bouncy, more like a bare chin.

Well, never mind. Sound and sense don’t always match well. And, for that matter, beard and wisdom are not a certain pairing either. But for me, throughout my life, my knowledge of beards has been first of all that beards are a sign of knowledge. And, in particular, a sign of my dad, Warren Harbeck.

Already by his 30s my dad had a beard. At the time (the 1970s), many men did. But when the fashions changed and my dad decided to shave his beard off, we the other members of his family were horrified and he quickly got wise to how unwise a move that was (though he did capitalize on it briefly by having a friend introduce him around as “Warren’s brother”). It simply suits him. And when he got his PhD at age 45 (with a dissertation on sophia to go with his pogon), it made him look ever that much more the scholar.

He has been mistaken for Kenny Rogers, yes, and Farley Mowat, and over the years increasingly for Santa Claus, in which juncture he has had further opportunity to demonstrate pogonosophy in that second sense: One time a kid came up to him as he was shopping and said “Hey, Santa, where’s that bike I asked you for at Christmas?” Without missing a beat, my dad replied, “Where’s the thank-you for what I got you last year?”

My dad didn’t inherit his beard. As far as I know, his father never had one:

(You can read about some of the things he did inherit from his father in his most recent weekly newspaper column.) But at one time in my youth, I tried inheriting a beard from him – or, you know, growing one by inspiration, hoping that it might make me look more mature. It didn’t really work, not least because I was unable to adjust my comportment to add the requisite gravitas.

My beard was gone within the year. But my dad’s has only gotten longer and fuller as he has grown in knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

He’s also a dab hand with words and is probably wise to the fact that I have confected pogonosophy for him for Father’s Day. You can find this word in one or two other places, but not in any dictionary I’ve ever opened. But so what: if you know the roots, the meaning is as plain as the beard on his face.

3 responses to “pogonosophy

  1. Very nice piece!


  2. Pictures from memory lane make this even more delightful a read than your word posts usually are. 🙂

  3. Your father is mated unto the beard with divine schema. It was quite the antithesis in your case though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s